The Polish tradition of blessing food baskets at Easter has been near and dear to Carolyn Napoli since her childhood.
“Getting them blessed with your parish families on Holy Saturday is just so wonderful,” said Napoli, a parishioner at St. Hyacinth’s in Auburn.
Ray Perez, meanwhile, looks forward to the annual outdoor Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, complete with prayers and music in Spanish, at Rochester’s Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish.
“You’re maintaining culture, and you’re also going out and proclaiming the word,” said Perez, one of the walk’s organizers.
Be it the blessing of food, outdoor Stations, touring churches on Holy Thursday or attending a sunrise service on Easter Sunday, diocesan parishes offer a wide range of cultural and other special events during the Triduum. This three-day period commemorating Christ’s death and resurrection begins Holy Thursday and concludes Easter Sunday, which this year falls on April 16.
Worthy of washing
Parishes conduct the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening, officially marking the end of Lent. A common custom at this liturgy is for several congregants to approach the altar to have their feet washed.
This re-enactment of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet also holds deep meaning for people who are incarcerated, said Father Vincent Panepinto.
“The prisoner is very affected by it emotionally because of his or her own guilt, feeling of embarrassment or poor image of self — to have somebody representing the Lord kneeling before them. I’ll say, ‘I need 12 men or 12 women,’ and they’ll say, ‘We’re not worthy.’ And I’ll say, ‘Oh, yes you are.’ The greatest symbolism is that they were worthy,” said Father Panepinto, pastor of Rochester’s Corpus Christi, Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel parishes. The priest officiated many Holy Thursday services in prisons as a chaplain in the Southern Tier, and currently assists at Monroe County Jail.
At parishes, Holy Thursday Masses are followed by Benediction and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament lasting well into the night. Groups often travel from church to church for adoration during these hours.
A popular spot is the renovated Sacred Heart Cathedral and its eucharistic chapel. Father John Mulligan, pastor, said visitors will be impressed by the historic tabernacle from the former St. Philip Neri Church in Rochester. It housed the Eucharist that Father George J. Weinmann and Sister Lilian Marie McLaughlin, SSND, tried to recover during a 1967 church fire in which they both died.
Father Mulligan, who is also a diocesan vicar general, considers Holy Thursday “a wonderful opportunity to see the cathedral and eucharistic chapel.”
He noted that Sacred Heart, as well as the other two churches in the Cathedral Community cluster, Holy Rosary and Most Precious Blood, will be open for adoration until 11 p.m.
Taking it to the streets
Good Friday, a day of strict fasting, is marked at many parishes by afternoon services and evening Stations of the Cross — often in the form of Living Stations, in which parish youths act out Jesus’ passion.
Some diocesan parishes offer their own unique Stations of the Cross, such as Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Its cross walk, set to start at noon on April 14 and proceed through the streets surrounding the church, will involve people of all ages.
“You see people standing on the porches a lot. You sense some reverence — even though they might be a different culture or religion, most everybody respects it. I’ve seen if someone’s playing loud music, we’ll come by and they’ll lower the music,” Perez said.
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel began its cross walk in the mid-1970s, and other city parishes have since followed suit, especially Hispanic churches. Noting that St. Michael’s and Our Lady of Perpetual Help combine for a cross walk on Good Friday, Perez hopes his church will eventually incorporate its other cluster parishes, Corpus Christi and Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier, into this meaningful tradition.
In Wayland, Steuben County, parishioners at St. Joseph’s Church, a worship site of Holy Family Parish, will join with their Protestant neighbors for the 34th annual Good Friday cross walk, beginning at Wayland Town Hall at 1 p.m. Participants will walk through town before ascending Calvary Hill, where a large steel cross is permanently affixed.
“Those that attend are not just from our area faith communities, but from a distance away as well,” said Linda Mehlenbacher, youth minister at Holy Family Parish.
Mehlenbacher has attended the cross walk regularly for more than 10 years. The weather is usually brisk, “but that’s OK because you stay pretty warm walking, especially when it’s time to climb the hill,” she remarked.
Mehlenbacher said the steep climb is the most spiritual part of the trip for her, as well as the quietest — “probably because everyone is breathless.”
A tasty tradition
According to Napoli, many delectable items make up the Polish food baskets that are blessed on Holy Saturday at St. Hyacinth’s: a lamb (meat, candy or molded from butter) to symbolize the Lamb of God; ham and/or kielbasa; bread; decorated eggs; horseradish; wine; salt; dairy products; cakes; pastries; and Easter candy and other treats for the children. Baskets are covered with hand-embroidered linen napkins and in many cases have been passed down through generations of Polish families.
Napoli noted that food baskets are also blessed on Holy Saturday at Ss. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Catholic Church in Auburn. The custom also goes back many years at St. Casimir’s Church in Elmira.
“It smells so good in church — Polish sausage, boiled eggs, ham,” remarked Anne Bremer, business manager for the St. Casimir/St. Charles Borromeo cluster.
Holy Saturday reaches its pinnacle with the Easter vigil Mass. Among its many highlights, this liturgy marks the official welcoming into the Catholic Church of people through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Auburn parishes have formed a new tradition regarding RCIA: For approximately 10 years, the process has been a combined citywide effort. Parishes are convening this year at St. Alphonsus Church for RCIA formation before returning to their own churches for the Easter vigil.
“I think that the people get a little more out of it,” Kathy Lipfert, pastoral minister at St. Mary’s Parish in Auburn, said of the combined format. “I have a candidate and a catechumen this year, and if I were to work just individually with them, they wouldn’t have the same experience as with the larger group.”
Morning has broken
Before the churches are filled, Easter-egg hunts are conducted and family dinners are served, Easter Sunday is observed during a special sunrise ecumenical service at Ontario Beach Park in Charlotte. This year the service will take place at 7 a.m. on April 16 in the Robach Community Center.
Parishioners from Holy Cross Church, along with at least one priest, turn out for this annual event, which also includes participation from area Protestant churches. The service consists of Christian hymns and prayers recited during the part of day associated with Jesus’ resurrection.
“It’s great to get as close as you can to the actual time of sunrise,” remarked Father John Reif, parochial vicar at Holy Cross. “I think, in some ways, it simulates the atmosphere of the women on the way to the tomb — the very early awareness of life and resurrection, and the mystery of all that.”